Student Perspectives is our series of guest posts written by current #citylis students.
This post is by #citylis student Emma Stanford, who works for Bodleian Digital Library Systems and Services. Here she discusses Digital.Bodleian, a digital collections browsing interface that launched on 8 July 2015.
In the two years since I started working in Bodleian Digital Library Systems and Services, I’ve been part of a number of fascinating projects, from assessing Hebrew manuscripts for the Polonsky Foundation Digitization Project to TEI-encoding the Bodleian’s copy of Shakespeare’s First Folio. Most recently, I have been part of the team working on Digital.Bodleian, a digital collections browsing interface that launched 8 July.
In our #citylis Digital Libraries module last term, somebody observed that digitization must be very expensive. That’s certainly true, based on my experience—but it’s not just expensive; it’s also underfunded. Like many libraries, the Bodleian depends on external funding for most of its digitization work: we apply for grants to fund specific projects, and we use whatever’s left over to prop up our existing infrastructure. The unpredictability of this funding model makes it difficult to create a long-term strategy for what to digitize and how to deliver it. As a result, we have a bunch of isolated websites delivering digitized content: the Luna collections of manuscripts and bindings, the very ancient image.ox.ac.uk, the John Johnson collection of printed ephemera, and the Polonsky Project website, to name a few.
Digital.Bodleian aims to solve this problem by gathering all our digital collections into one location. (Or it will, anyway, once we finish migrating everything over.) You can search across collections, browse by theme, and even create collections of your own. Moreover, Digital.Bodleian won’t just be solving the silo problem for the Bodleian; it’s part of a greater effort to enable research across digital collections internationally.
All the items in Digital.Bodleian adhere to the specifications of the International Image Interoperability Framework (IIIF), a set of APIs for viewing and grouping images in cultural heritage collections. Using IIIF, people have been able to compare different libraries’ copies of manuscripts side-by-side in a single viewing platform and to reassemble fragmented manuscripts using images from half-a-dozen different libraries. (See this recent article in D-Lib for a IIIF use case.) People at the Bodleian have been involved in IIIF since its inception, but this is the first time a Bodleian digital collection has embraced IIIF standards.
I wasn’t involved in the technical work of creating Digital.Bodleian (which was partly farmed out to external software companies) or of ironing out all the bugs (which was, and continues to be, my boss’s job). However, I’m partly responsible for ingesting things into Digital.Bodleian. This task has required a few different strategies, because there is very little standardization of metadata or image format across our existing digital collections. Most of the items I migrated to Digital.Bodleian went through Goobi, which my coursemates may remember from our Digital Libraries module, but many require some pre-Goobi rearrangement and reformatting. I have also been heavily involved in publicizing Digital.Bodleian via Twitter, which means I’ve been a primary point of call for feedback about the project.
Feedback from scholars and users of the site has been overwhelmingly positive. But scholars do seem to immediately want more (more images, more interoperability, higher-resolution downloads, more liberal reuse policies), which can be frustrating. Some of their requests we can fulfil in the near future, but for the most part we can’t, because Digital.Bodleian is a service we have been building and negotiating for years now, and what we’re presenting is currently the best we can do.
The question of image reuse and download resolution, for example: Digital.Bodleian’s existing policy is the result of negotiations with the Bodleian’s imaging department and with our lawyers. It makes sense that people want high-resolution JPEGs under a Creative Commons license, and the fact that we can’t provide that service is an indication that UK law and traditional revenue models for cultural heritage materials are out of step with the needs of digital scholarship. (In fact, two days after the launch my colleague found an online forum where people were already speculating on how to download and stitch together the tiles of the delivery JPEG2000s.)
I was thinking a lot last term about how to make digital collections that encourage and facilitate engagement. In some ways I think Digital.Bodleian does this well: the themed collections on the landing page make it easy to find something interesting interesting, and the tagging and collection-building functions enable interaction. I’d like to figure out a way to showcase newly added items, or to provide a platform where users of the site can share their collections. But I think the central strength of the site is its IIIF compatibility, and the main challenge will be educating people about IIIF’s potential as a research tool, especially as the number of institutions participating in IIIF grows.
Student Perspectives is our series of guest posts written by current #citylis students. If you are a current #citylis student or alumni and would like to contribute a post, please contact Ernesto Priego at firstname.lastname@example.org
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